Martin misery after pile-up
Dan Martin's Giro d'Italia dreams went down the drain on the opening stage in Belfast as he broke his collarbone in a sickening crash.
The Irishman lost control on a drain cover in wet conditions during the team time trial, taking three of his Garmin-Sharp team-mates with him in a dramatic pile-up.
Martin, who had made this race the focus of his season, made little attempt to get back up as he held his collarbone and waited for medical attention.
While five Garmin-Sharp riders made it to the end together to set a time, their mark of 28 minutes eight seconds was way off the pace set by stage winners Orica GreenEdge, effectively ending the hopes of 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal into the bargain.
Andre Cardoso, Koldo Fernandez and Nathan Haas - the others to fall - all eventually got back on, but Fernandez was later taken to hospital where he too was found to have a broken collarbone.
A Garmin-Sharp statement said: "Dan Martin was transported immediately from the site of the crash to a local hospital for evaluation where doctors confirmed a broken clavicle. He continues to be evaluated for additional injuries. Koldo Fernandez fought to the finish but was transported to a local hospital where doctors confirmed a broken clavicle.
"Andre Cardoso and Nathan Haas suffered contusions and abrasions and will be evaluated further tonight by team medical staff."
Martin's crash was the most dramatic illustration of the huge role the weather played as the first Grand Tour of the season started under damp skies.
Orica GreenEdge took victory, gifting the leader's pink jersey to birthday boy Svein Tuft, and, although they had been the favourites, they could be grateful for being the second team out as they benefited from dry roads.
General classification hopefuls Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) caught the worst of the conditions and paid the price, but the road dried up enough for Rigoberto Uran's Omega Pharma-Quick Step team and Cadel Evan's BMC Racing to get within five and seven seconds respectively of Orica GreenEdge's time of 24mins 42secs.
The wet weather had not deterred thousands of fans from lining the Belfast roads, but the mood changed as the big screens showed Martin tumbling to the ground.
Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters reacted to the crash immediately on Twitter.
"So sad. Nothing to be done. Professional bike racing is cruel," he wrote.
Martin's uncle, 1987 Giro winner Stephen Roche, was also on Twitter moments after the crash.
"Absolutely gutted Dan @DanMartin86" he wrote.
Martin, a stage winner on last year's Tour de France and cousin of Nicolas Roche, was considered one of the contenders at the start of the race, but the crash left his team's plans in ruins.
It was another huge slice of bad luck for Martin, who was on course to defend his title at Liege-Bastogne-Liege at the end of April before crashing on the final bend.
Tinkoff-Saxo wound up fourth, 23 seconds off the pace, to leave Martin's cousin Nicolas Roche content.
"It was really tough," he said of the conditions. "Looking at the forecast we were hoping it was going to be okay but unfortunately not, but I think we set a good mark.
" I said if we only gave up 20-30 seconds from the lead team we'd be in good shape."
Ben Swift led Team Sky home in fifth, while Quintana's Movistar could only manage eighth, 55 seconds back, and Rodriguez found himself 93 seconds back after a disappointing run from Katusha.
But nobody could dampen the mood of Tuft as the Canadian celebrated his 37th birthday in pink.
"An amazing day," he said. "It's a pretty crazy way to spend your birthday but to finish on that note, what a treat. I can't thank my team-mates enough for giving me that opportunity. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, what a fantastic team.
"They gave me a great gift, it was really a birthday present. This team is really selfless in that way."